C.A. Overturns Approval of San Francisco Bay Sand Mining

By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer : metnews – excerpt

The State Lands Commission violated the public trust doctrine when it approved the dredge mining of sand from sovereign lands under the San Francisco Bay, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

Div. Four said the commission and a San Francisco Superior Court judge were wrong in concluding that an adequate review under the California Environmental Quality Act obviated the need for separate consideration of environmentalists’ claims that the plan was an inappropriate use of public trust land.

San Francisco Baykeeper, Inc., which has been fighting the project for years, sought a writ of mandate after the commission decided last year to renew, for 10-year terms, leases that were originally granted in 1998.

The leases allow three companies to extract sand from below Central San Francisco Bay, Suisun Bay, and the western Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, to be used in Bay Area construction project. Baykeeper argues that the mining is exacerbating a serious erosion problem, but the commission concluded that the alternative, requiring builders to bring in sand from a greater distance, would be at least as harmful to the environment.

The leaseholders requested in 2006 that the original 10-year terms be extended. The commission had been granting month-to-month extensions until it made its decision in October of last year to grant the full 10-year extensions, limiting the amount of extracted sand at each project parcel to a baseline tied to past activity.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Terri L. Jackson denied the writ, concluding that the commission had complied with its obligations under both CEQA and the public trust doctrine… (more)

Supes Vote Unanimously To Let 75 Howard High-Rise Move Forward

by Geri Koeppel : hoodline – excerpt

Barring any further legal battles, the proposed luxury condo and mixed-use high-rise at 75 Howard St. will move ahead, after a unanimous decision by the Board of Supervisors in the early morning hours of Wednesday. The board voted to reject an appeal to anenvironmental impact review (EIR) of the project, which was brought by many of the same opponents who fought the proposed 8 Washington condos and have been involved in other waterfront development debates.

75 Howard’s developer, Paramount Group, plans to build 133 units of luxury housing, 5,824 square feet of retail space and 102 below-ground parking spaces on the site of what’s currently an eight-story parking garage. Paramount originally proposed a 348-foot tower with 31 stories, but that was later cut to 290 feet, and now, 220 feet.

Earlier this week, Paramount also voluntarily increased its percentage of in-lieu affordable housing fees from $9.7 million (equivalent to the required 20 percent) to $15.7 million (roughly equivalent to 33 percent). The Chronicle reported all of the financial details on Tuesday; it pencils out to the equivalent of about 38 units of affordable housing, with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Development overseeing the distribution of funds to its various affordable projects.

But despite the added contribution, opponents were not swayed, claiming that a shadow analysis and traffic studies were flawed. As we previously reported, they organized a group, Save Rincon Park, to fight the project, with local residents, office tenants, and Boulevard restaurant among the members. (Original materials about the project can be found on the Board of Supervisors’ site, including letters from the project sponsor and the appellant in last night/this morning’s hearing.)

The Planning Department voted 5-1 to approve the 75 Howard project on September 3rd; the Board of Supervisors doesn’t need to give its OK to the project as a whole, because there are no height or zoning changes needed. But that doesn’t mean opponents won’t consider further litigation, or, as in the case of 8 Washington, try to gather signatures for a ballot referendum against the project.


One of 75 Howard’s main opponents, David Osgood of the Rincon Point Neighbors Association, told us that any further action “remains to be determined,” but he’d support either course. “It’s hard to explain why all the supervisors are so out of touch with waterfront planning issues.”

“Everyone’s evaluating our options and we’ll see where we go from here,” said Jon Golinger, one of the main drivers behind the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign. That campaign led to a successful ballot initiative, requiring voters to approve any increase on height limits for developments on Port of San Francisco parcels. (It’s currently being battled in the courts.)…

One of opponents’ biggest objections to 75 Howard is that it will cast shadows on Rincon Park. They’ve asked for step-downs toward the waterfront to minimize the shadows, which they say will violate the Sunlight Ordinance. (The appellant letter from Rincon Point Neighbors Association suggests a “100-foot alternative.”) However, no changes have been made to the design; Clemens said in an email that any further changes will be worked out collaboratively with the Planning Department.

Danny Yadegar, legislative aide to District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, pointed out that any building higher than 100 feet tall will cast a shadow (the current garage is 91 feet). Also, he said the developer told Kim that the building’s design includes a 20-foot parapet of glass, which isn’t “as impactful” as if it were a solid mass…

He also said he tried tirelessly to get meetings with city decision-makers, but was mostly unsuccessful. “Developers can waltz into meetings with the mayor and supervisors; we can’t … There’s all the components of a corrupted planning process: Too much lobbyist access, secret negotiations, money, late-night meetings, flawed analysis.”

Yadegar, Kim’s aide, said roughly two people spoke against the project at the meeting, and six spoke for it. He said both the project sponsor and the appellant must agree to a continuance, and while Osgood requested it, Clemens declined… (more)


Achieving Better Architecture in the Eastern Neighborhoods

by Annie Fryman : sfhac – excerpt

One thing was clear at the New Challenges for Eastern Neighborhoods forum: everyone is begging for better architecture in the Eastern Neighborhoods.

The 2009 Eastern Neighborhoods Plan carefully rezoned the Mission, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and parts of Soma with more liberal height and bulk restrictions, but architectural design standards were never addressed. Residential development elsewhere in San Francisco must abide by residential design guidelines, which are (to some, overly) strict prescriptions intended to maintain the architectural rhythm and historicism of the early and mid-20th century.

On Wednesday night, the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association teamed up with an eager collection of architects, planners, and neighborhood leaders to collaborate on developing thoughtful guidelines for the quickly changing district. Ron Miguel, a veteran Planning Commissioner, Potrero neighborhood activist, and early member of SFHAC, so succinctly put it: “The Eastern Neighborhoods are the last frontier for creating an inspiring architectural spirit in San Francisco.

Stanley Saitowitz (Natoma Architects) brought an intriguing slideshow of urban buildings from other international, historic cities, emphasizing the need to re-empower the architect in a place where it’s tough to build. “World-class architects come from outside and see this city with immense clarity, but they don’t have the stamina to see their visions through. The forces against architects are enormous.”

These forces against architects were a common thread throughout the forum, attributed at points to everything from the Planning Department, to state mandates like CEQA, to scattered neighborhood inputs and internal reviews watering down design vision. And, in response, the forces against neighbors were also addressed. Fears about developers not considering the communities they’re entering; fears about the city enabling development at scales not fit for neighborhood character. Saitowitz, however, politely responded that “We need to face the fact that we are building a city now – we can’t continue just building little houses on little lots.”

Although a clear set of residential design guidelines was not decided by the end of the evening, the conversation between neighbors and architects was an actionable start to what will likely be a long dialogue. Here are some key conclusions:

Community can – and should! – offer design inspiration…
A team of inspired designers should lead Eastern Neighborhoods guidelines…
Design guidelines can, however, be prescriptive in ground-floor programming…
Neighborhood input should happen as early in design process as possible…

CEQA baseline can consider historic levels of use

Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP : lexology – excerpt

North County Advocates v. City of Carlsbad (2015)—Cal.App.4th—Case No. D066488

Why It Matters: This case addresses an important issue under CEQA relating to the development of the existing conditions baseline against which project impacts are measured. This decision holds that an EIR prepared for the renovation of a vacant department store could include the store’s historical operational information in establishing the environmental baseline for the project’s traffic impact analysis under CEQA.

Facts: In 1969 a Westfield shopping center was constructed in Carlsbad, California (City). It featured retail shops and five main anchor department store buildings, one of which was a Robinsons-May store. Under a “Precise Plan” approved by the City in 1977, Westfield was entitled to renovate the interior of the Robinsons-May store and fully occupy it without obtaining further approvals. In 2006 the Robinsons-May store became vacant, although smaller retailers such as Halloween stores occupied the space intermittently from time to time thereafter. In August 2012 the City released a draft EIR for a project to demolish and reconstruct the former Robinsons-May store, approximately six years after it had become vacant. The project would result in a net loss of 636 square feet of total gross leasable area… (more)

Bay Area needs powerful regional government, study says

By Andrew McGall : contracostatimes – excerpt

The Bay Area generates one of the brightest sparks in the nation’s recovering economy, but feeding its vitality means residents will have to give up some local control, dig deeper into their wallets, and make room for tens of thousands of new neighbors, according to study released Friday.

Keeping on prosperity’s path requires a regional government with power to overcome local obstacles, money from new taxes and tolls, and opening the doors to housing closed by local growth controls and state environmental red tape, according to “A Roadmap for Economic Resilience,” an in-depth study done by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

Without action, the Bay Area’s highways choked with commuters, its fragmented transit systems, and anti-growth attitudes will choke the boom times, the report says.

The Bay Area may have 101 cities, “but it is one economy with more than 7 million people,” says Bay Area Council President Jim Wunderman… (more)

Putting Developers’ Environmental Impact to a Vote in California

By : urbanland – excerpt

Last year, the California Supreme Court ruled that a project proposed through the citizen initiative process and subsequently approved by a council—without a public vote—was exempt from a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, overturning a lower court decision. Now, a project can avoid months of costly CEQA-related delays if a developer raises enough signatures for an initiative and the council or board simply ratifies the project.

Several projects have already used the voter initiative route, including the backers of National Football League stadiums proposed earlier this year in Inglewood and Carson. In August, the municipal government of Carlsbad, a coastal community north of San Diego, approved a master plan for 203 acres (82 ha) along the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, including a shopping center proposed by Caruso Affiliated, after the developer gathered 20,000 signatures for an initiative.

More and more developers are expected to use this process, which opponents say is simply a loophole in the CEQA process. “I think we’ll see more of it and unfortunately I think it will be the larger developments, the ones that really need CEQA the most,” said Livia Borak, an attorney with the Coast Law Group, an Encinitas, California–based law firm focused on environmental issues.

CEQA was hailed as a groundbreaking attempt to ensure environmental protections when it was signed into law in 1970 by then-Governor Ronald Reagan. But CEQA’s role has changed in recent years, as project opponents used different CEQA provisions to launch lawsuits against developments, adding months and, in some cases, years to the development process. “There are few state laws developers loathe more than the California Environmental Quality Act,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in a recent editorial.

“People have been arguing for a long time that it needs reform,” said Greta Brownlow, an adjunct professor in the San Jose State University department of urban and regional planning and an associate with LSA Associates, a consultancy… (more)

5M developer alters project to include more affordable housing

 By J.K. Dineen : sfgate – excerpt

The developer of a proposed mixed-use development at Fifth and Mission streets has agreed to increase the amount of affordable housing in the project while cutting the number of parking spaces.

The new development agreement, hammered out over the weekend by Supervisor Jane Kim and Forest City Senior Vice President Alexa Arena, calls for 87 affordable apartments in a 288-unit rental building, up from the previous proposal of 58. The additional 7 percent of the units will target households earning 150 percent of area median income, about $150,000 for a family of four.

The amount of parking will be reduced from 463 to 331 spaces.

The changes come as the rezoning of the property and the development agreement was introduced at a meeting Monday at the . The deal will then move to the full Board of Supervisors for a November 17 vote. That day the board will also hear an appeal of the project’s environmental study… (more)

Court Rules Against San Diego County Climate Action Plan

By Tom Fudge, Patty Lane, Quinn Owen, Amita Sharma : kpbs – excerpt (includes video)

Thursday, October 30, 2014 – An appellate court has ruled against San Diego County’s Climate Action Plan, stating it “does not ensure reductions.” The court found San Diego County’s plan to reduce greenhouse emissions did not live up to state standards.

The facts of the county’s Climate Action Plan led to a lawsuit by the Sierra Club. A district court judge ruled in favor of the Sierra Club and against the county. Wednesday the appeals court confirmed the lower courts decision.

The law that establishes the county’s policy of reducing greenhouse emissions includes CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, and a 2005 executive order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that established specific emission goals to slow global warming.

Environmental lawyer Jan Chatten-Brown, who represents the Sierra Club, told KPBS Midday Edition the ruling will force the county to adopt higher standards.

“There has to be – as a result of their decision – a new environmental impact report. And this is not just a technicality, it’s very important in terms of giving thorough scrutiny to the measures,” Chatten-Brown said...(more)

Chattan-Brown and Carstens LLP  CBC, http://www.cbcearthlaw.com


Special Deal Would Benefit Influential Oakland Developer

By eastbayextress – excerpt

The Oakland planning department quietly proposed zoning changes that would greatly benefit a politically connected developer in the heart of First Friday.

The proposed zoning changes would make it easier for Signature Development to build a large mixed-use project across the street from the company’s Hive development in Uptown.

The Oakland Planning and Building Department recently attempted to quietly push through changes to the city’s zoning code that would greatly benefit a politically connected developer who has acquired a big chunk of real estate in Uptown Oakland, right in the heart of First Friday, the Express has learned. Planning staffers buried the proposed zoning amendment in a six hundred-plus page document amid other proposed changes that they described as routine and neutral efforts meant only to “clean up” Oakland’s planning code. But the zoning change, which underwent no public scrutiny before the planning department recently proposed it, would greatly increase the value of property recently purchased by Signature Development Group, a major Oakland real estate company run by Michael Ghielmetti, and would make it easier to build a large development project between 24th and 25th streets near Broadway.

“There seems to be a blatant disregard for the community,” said Hiroko Kurihara, founder and director of the nonprofit 25th Street Collective, in an interview. “The zoning changes that were proposed at the last minute … left even members of the planning commission scratching their heads.”… (more)

The technique is described really well by someone who researched the methods used by SFMTA to illegally alter the parking policies while claiming they were not making any substantive changes. See details here: https://metermadness.wordpress.com/actions/

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